Otero County commissioners unanimously vote to oppose vaccine requirement for healthcare workers

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UPDATE: FOX21 News followed up with the Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center regarding their views on the resolution.

“Yes, absolutely, we will be following the State and Federal vaccine mandate,” wrote Janice Leija, director of marketing & compliance, in an email.

LA JUNTA, Colo. — Otero County Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution on Monday, Sept. 27, opposing the state mandate requiring certain people to be vaccinated and wear masks in certain situations.

Many healthcare facilities in that county were concerned about a workforce shortage if they follow the state’s orders to require all medical workers to be vaccinated.

“It would be better to have someone there to care for you with the slight chance of contracting COVID rather than there be no one there to care for you because those people chose not to receive the vaccine,” Otero County Chairman Jim Baldwin said.

The resolution reads as follows:

This resolution was passed just before the deadline set by the Department of Public Health and Environment for all individuals on staff at these hospitals must have received their first COVID-19 vaccine by Thursday, Sept. 30, as requested by Governor Jared Polis earlier in 2021.

It was a packed county commissioner’s meeting on Monday with more than 150 people in attendance. County Commissioner Jim Baldwin said no one stood in support of the vaccine mandate for all healthcare workers.

“We don’t know what the long-term effects of this vaccine, I encourage you to not take our choice, our freedom of choice away,” Micah Summers said.

“Sometimes nurses will continue to advocate for patients despite their wishes be verbalized because a medical team might not agree with those wishes and I believe that is why nurses are protesting because our wishes as healthcare workers and patients have been verbalized and are not being accounted for just because the government knows what is best for us, we have rights as patients, as workers, as people, and as Americans,” Samantha Graham said.

“Yesterday, my mother-in-law was in tears because she had no other alternatives but to take the vaccine in order to keep her job to take care of my daughter, I think that is wrong!” Army Veteran Kari Gollihar said.

The packed meeting held a standing ovation for the commissioners after the resolution passed. Many of which were seen on video courtesy of Adrian Hart of seconews.org shaking the commissioner’s hands before they left the meeting.

“I want to say congratulations, I think people need to stand up for their rights, I mean it is the way our country was founded,” Commissioner Baldwin said. “The government is supposed to work for the people and not the government is in control of the people.”

Governor Jared Polis said on Tuesday, the health facilities that don’t follow the vaccination mandate will lose federal funding.

“I think they are directing their attention to the wrong attention, they will lose federal Medicare and Medicaid funding without which they don’t have a viable business model if they don’t accomplish the vaccination of their staff,” Gov. Jared Polis said. “We do hear from the vast majority of their staff in Otero County and the majority of healthcare workers from across the state that they are relieved that a handle of their colleagues who haven’t gotten vaccinated will be gone and remove that threat from the workplace or get vaccinated so what hear from rural Colorado is a collective sigh of relief from the vast majority of healthcare workers from rural Colorado who are successfully vaccinated.”

Due to lack of housing, the Otero County Commissioners are also concerned if the state does send vaccinated healthcare workers to help with staffing issues where would they stay.

“The Governor said he would send down workers to fill in for them, but I don’t even know if the pay scale is even the same,” Commissioner Baldwin added. “The next hurdle is housing, where are they going to stay… we don’t have available housing down here. That is a big issue that we are trying to address all the time, the lack of housing.”

Currently, Otero has had 2,322 cases of coronavirus in the county since the pandemic began, according to the state’s website. The county has had 72 deaths among cases and 33 deaths were due to COVID-19, according to the state. So far, there have only been 17 Alpha variant cases and 11 Delta variant cases in the county.

On Tuesday, the State Board of Health extended public health order 20-20, which requires long-term health care facilities to schedule booster shot clinics before the end of October 2021.

To learn more about Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, click here.

To learn where you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine, click here.

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